Speaking Truth to Power

Posted by admin on Thursday Sep 26, 2013 Under Uncategorized

For the next three months, I’m going to be blogging over at my novel’s website MexicoTrilogy.com, which I set up to market my book. I should probably be Tweeting, and Facebooking, and sticking pictures up on Pinterest, too, but since there are only 24 hours in a day, I’m hoping SEO will get readers to my site and to my book. I’d actually like to be, you know, writing novels. Anyway, visit me over at MexicoTrilogy.com, and let’s see if I can meet my goal of selling 500 books.

gabbyThroughout this whole process of putting a book out, I’ve been thinking a lot about what women must do to be part of the cultural and political discourse. Unlike me, some risk their lives.

In January 2011, Gabrielle Giffords was shot in a supermarket parking lot. Her crime? Holding a constituents’ meeting in a public place in a country so addicted to violence and guns it can’t think straight.

On October 9, 2012, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by Taliban terrorists on the way to school. Her crime? She wanted an education, to be able to read and write. For this, she was shot by a patriarchal group addicted to violence and women-hating.

wendy_davis_memeLast year when the Texas legislature held a special session to deny women access to reproductive medical care, Wendy Davis, at one time a poor, single mother herself, stood and filibustered for eleven hours so that other women might have the same opportunities and choices she has had. The Texas law that later passed is a legal shot in the head for women.

That Gabby Giffords lived to be a beautiful, bright voice of reason is nothing short of a miracle. That Malala lived to speak so eloquently for the rights of girls is a miracle, as well. That Wendy Davis had the strength to stand up to the whole male establishment in the state of Texas is awe-inspiring. They are speaking truth to power.

This phrase—Speak Truth to Power— comes from a document created by The Society of Friends, the Quakers, in response to the arms race.

They identified a country’s worst enemy as not something external to that country, but something internal. They concluded the enemy within was:

1.) The Lust for Power
2.) The Addiction to Violence
3.) The Denial of Human Dignity

boehner092013Nowhere did we see that enemy better illustrated than by Republican members of the House of Representatives at the victory party they held after cutting funds to the SNAP program, funds that go disproportionately to children, the elderly and, increasingly to military families. That many of the members who voted to take food from the hungry also personally receive millions of dollars in farm subsidies, which they all voted to renew, is beyond hypocritical and power-lusting. It’s vicious. It’s venal. Words fail, really.

If you count these congressmen’s addiction to the NRA, you’re pretty much looking at what Quakers consider to be our worst enemy. It’s us. We voted for this. And if we didn’t vote for it, we didn’t speak truth to power loudly or often enough.

So where does that leave a Romantic Suspense fiction writer, a self-published one at that? Where does that leave me?

Jimmy Carter SayingIf I don’t speak truth to power in all ways available to me, in my blog, in my books and at the scariest of all — family gatherings, I will have aligned myself with cowards, hypocrites and Machiavellian ideologues.

Self-publishing my novel Palace of the Blue Butterfly was one little way of speaking truth to power. The novel tells the story of an older woman who longs for some kind of transformation. There is romance but not on the man’s terms. It explores the terrible period of McCarthyism in this country. It does not glorify the very rich, and it refutes the lie that Americans are comfortable perpetuating—that Mexico is a backward country full of desperately poor campesinos and drug lords.

When the powerful in my little world said that the Mexican setting wouldn’t sell, that the love interest couldn’t be Mexican, that my protagonist was too old, I could have remained silent. I did not. While there was no gun to my head nor was I in anyone’s crosshairs, it took a certain bit of courage to demand to be heard. It was a small step, nothing as huge as the women above, but it was a step.

It’s interesting that at last year’s Romance Writers of America annual conference, the largest workshop— standing room only—- was on self-publishing. Women storytellers are no longer allowing themselves to be silenced.

What if the writers—the actual workers in the 1.5 billion dollar a year industry that is romance novel writing— organized, demanded better contracts, created more publishing houses than three media conglomerates? Think about it. That’s close to a million women writers. If they started speaking truth to power, our whole collective narrative could change. No longer would women feel they had to be thrilled by heavily armed Navy Seals or whip-wielding plutocrats like in Fifty Shades of Grey. They could fall in love with bumbling guys you wouldn’t even want carrying a leaf-blower. You know men who are kind, gentle, soulful and who aren’t addicted to violence or lusting for power.

I can almost see a collective sneer. Romance Writers. Who are they? A bunch of fluff ball girls. Alas, there are so many ways to extinguish women’s voices, and this isn’t the worst.

malalaTo the Taliban, Malala was an infidel, Gabby Giffords was in the NRA’s cross-hairs, and Texas Republicans have tried to slut-shame Wendy Davis by calling her Abortion Barbie.

Really, doing almost anything that isn’t sanctioned by a male institution is subversive. I would add now after Citizen’s United that doing anything not sanctioned by an extremely wealthy white male institution is subversive.

Of course if we care about democracy, this is exactly why you, we, I have to speak truth to power every chance we get.

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Lookaway, Lookaway: North Carolina and the Not-So-New . . .

Posted by admin on Friday Sep 20, 2013 Under Uncategorized

. . . South

As everyone around here knows, I’ve been sick, really sick. After several days of terrible pain, Dave drove me down the mountain to the emergency room—otherwise known as The Village of the Damned—where I waited for five hours before being seen by the ER doc. The other lost souls in the waiting room included a stroke victim slumped in a wheelchair, a half starved, young woman clearly in the throes of a psychotic break, plus the usual folks with no health insurance, their faces covered with paper masks, who use the ER as a primary care facility.

lookawayFortunately, I had a really good book to get lost in, Lookaway, Lookaway, by Wilton Barnhardt of Raleigh, North Carolina.

Years ago an agent told me I should exploit my Southern background in my writing. She meant Southern as in mansions covered in honeysuckle, spirited young belles and old black maids dispensing the wisdom of the ages. I tried to explain how the south wasn’t really like that anymore, probably never was, but it took this author to really nail it. Barnhardt is Dickens with a drawl, doused in bourbon, ready to put to rest every illusion and delusion the south has manufactured about itself since the first convict ever set foot on Georgia soil.

The Charlotte, North Carolina portrayed in this novel IS my southern background. In fact, it’s where I was born and raised. Finally, someone got around to skewering the antebellum fantasies of Southern gentry and laying waste to the crass culture of Banktown, as Charlotte is known these days.

Barnhardt spares no one — not the golf-playing alcoholics at the country club bar decked out in plaid pants and pink Polo shirts, not the fans of southern romance novels who swarm to a local writer’s book signing in a soulless strip mall, not the real estate developers who stub out depressing lots in a sprawling suburban wasteland, not the sanctimonious church goers lurking on a hook-up site called charlottedownlow nor the couture-wearing society dames who bare their well-manicured talons on the local museum board. No one.

About the only three things that survive this writer’s close-to-the-bone satire are the lush Piedmont landscape, Carolina barbeque (both eastern and Piedmont style) and Carolina coleslaw.

Praise the Lord. No more low-country, jasmine-scented scenarios. This book is as raw as the red clay landscape it comes from.

You see, I always thought I might go back to North Carolina. I mean, I bought the whole thing about how North Carolina was the New South, forward thinking, poised to be a leader in commerce and the arts. In fact before we bought the ranch, Dave and I looked for property there once, wading through underbrush-covered homesites always on the lookout for copperheads everywhere we stepped.

You know, North Carolina has more venomous snakes than any other state in the nation, and that doesn’t even count its new governor, former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory, and the rest of the state legislators.

Unless you’re from NC, you’re probably not paying attention to what’s going on in the great Tarheel State. Let me explain as simply as I can: The Klan (or descendents thereof) has ridden into Raleigh. Only this time its members are dressed in Brooks Brothers suits instead of white robes and are armed with Mont Blanc pens instead of burning crosses. In a few short months, they have managed to do the unthinkable: They have turned North Carolina into South Carolina — a backward place I always thought of as full of redneck racists still fuming about the War of Northern Aggression, still mourning the Dreadful Surrender. Short of hush puppies and the beaches, I didn’t really see how SC contributed much to the national well-being. Ah but, that was before its former governor went “hiking on the Appalachian trail” and gave us all a new euphemism for cheating on your spouse and something to laugh at, which is always good for the soul. So, there’s that.

Lookaway, Lookaway pulled me through some dark hours, made me laugh, even though I was sick and in pain, and helped make sense of my upbringing as in — You have not been alone, Jane. Someone else was right there with you rolling their eyes.

yosemiteI go back to NC these days to see family, and after a few days spent with bankers and stockbrokers in the humid air under the crepe myrtle and magnolias, I start to get itchy for something a bit more rugged. These guys give the appearance that the hardest thing they’ve ever done in life is hit a golf ball over a water hazard. Foreclosing on poor people? They don’t even break a sweat doing that, so it doesn’t count.

I can never really relax until the plane is over the granite spine of the Sierras, and I see Yosemite’s alpine meadows and the snow covered north faces of the mountains.

The mountain west is my home now. It can be a stark landscape, full of rock, sky and icy lakes, but there’s something about it that makes me feel stronger, wilder, more imaginative, freer.

And then there are the cowboys. You’ll never catch them wearing plaid golf pants and pink shirts. Trust me. Never.

Robert Redford, cowboy

A picture is worth a thousand words, right? Ladies, need I say more?

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